The Summer PracticeFest was a good step toward getting students and families to really think about practice, and also whether it absolutely had to be done at the piano (since many took time to travel during the ‘Fest).
- “Brain Practice” can be done anywhere with the music and is very important – so many young students rush into playing a piece without settling down and thinking first. Dr. Noa Kageyama from Julliard suggests that each practice start with a few deep breaths to get focused.
- Rhythm or Theory Practice can be done anywhere with the exercise sheets and reinforces basic skills needed for learning pieces,
- Listening Practice can be done anywhere with a CD or iPod (extra credit for tapping or dancing to the CD).
- Fun Practice: At the end of the summer I learned about a book called “Ssshhh! Your Piano Teacher Thinks This is Practice” which has 88 pages of “fun” activities for elementary musicians to do that can constitute part of their daily practice requirement. The activities not only make the student accountable for different types practice requirements (e.g., not always starting at the beginning of the piece!), but engage the family and others into what is otherwise a solitary (and therefore potentially unpleasant) pursuit. If we can find ways to build the social aspects of music into lessons in the early years, perhaps we can keep more students involved for a longer time so that they can develop their musical and artistic sensibilities fully and give their friends, family and community the gift of performing.
I’ve always admired my instrumentalist friends’ rhythmic ability. They seem to have a built in sense of maintaining the tempo through dicey passages, which I assume is from their experience in ensembles. As young pianists, we tend to slow down or stop when we get stuck, without immediate feedback that’s inherent in an ensemble (i.e., nobody else is slowing down and you’re no longer with the group) so it’s easy to be unaware that you’re not counting correctly. Yet rhythmic vitality is as important as playing the right notes!
Since it’s nice to have a change of pace in the spring and summer, it seems that a duet boot camp might be fun for the students and a chance to sneak in work on new skills: counting, collaboration and listening, sight-reading, and recording (so that they can create accompaniment tracks for themselves and others). By using music that’s a level or two below playing level, students can also reinforce technique and musical concepts learned over the past year.
I love the Norton Microjazz duets – they come with a CD accompaniment track recorded as an ensemble; a hit with the kids! Solo beginner pieces in a number of series (e.g., Waxman, Faber, etc.) offer an opportunity for slightly older students to test their composition and keyboard harmony skills by creating secondo parts and playing with younger students. It would be great to get students who are learning other instruments to play melodies with solo piano pieces, and help piano students understand which instruments have to be transposed and can’t play from piano score.
What are your favorite duet series and stories?